Best Teen Books 2019

Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

This novel is pure science fiction joy. The cast is quirky and very funny, the plot is fast moving and cleverly built, and the aliens are believable.

black enough edited by ibi zoboi

Black Enough edited by Ibi Zoboi

Incredible authors come together to create an anthology that is very impressive. The interplay of the stories as edited by Zoboi makes for a fascinating journey through the various facets and aspects of being an African-American teen.

Butterfly Yellow by Thanhha Lai

Butterfly Yellow by Thanhha Lai

Painful and traumatic, this book is filled with sweat, work and more than a little love.

Dig by A. S. King

Dig by A. S. King

A great teen novel full of depth with a strong voice and a definitely point of view.

The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

A superb historical novel that looks at race, gender and America.

 

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer

I approach every retelling of a fairy tale with trepidation. There are few that can really transform the tale into something new and fresh. Kemmerer does exactly that with her retelling of Beauty and the Beast.

The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys

The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys

Skillful and haunting, this look at Spain’s history is vivid and unflinching.

Frankly in Love by David Yoon

Frankly in Love by David Yoon

Yoon has created one of the hottest YA titles of the fall. To my delight, it’s popular for a reason.

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

This is a complex teen novel filled with engaging characters who all are distinct from one another and enticing to spend time with. She has included all sorts of diversity in her characters, including neurodiversity, bisexuality, and racial diversity.

Gravity by Sarah Deming

Gravity by Sarah Deming

A gripping, feminist sports novel that will grab readers and not let them go.

How It Feels to Float by Helena Fox

How It Feels to Float by Helena Fox

This is a remarkable debut novel. Set in Australia, the book explores mental illness with a tenderness that is haunting.

Hungry Hearts edited by Elsie Chapman and Caroline Tung Richmond

Hungry Hearts edited by Elsie Chapman and Caroline Tung Richmond

More than a simple collection of short stories, these short stories are beautifully connected to one another.

The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake

The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake

Beautiful, powerful and full of feeling, this book is amazing.

Lovely War by Julie Berry

Lovely War by Julie Berry

An incredible piece of historical fiction. This is one of the best of the year.

The Merciful Crow by Margaret Owen

The Merciful Crow by Margaret Owen 

A great new voice in YA fantasy, this novel is dark, bloody and compelling.

Mike by Andrew Norriss

Mike by Andrew Norriss

A fresh sports novel filled with fish, invisible friends, and frankness.

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi

Wow. What a book! The voice here is what hits you first, unique and strong, it speaks in a Nigerian-laced rhythm that creates its own magic immediately. Add in the power of Jam herself, a black, trans girl who often chooses not to speak aloud but with sign language.

Redwood and Ponytail by K.A. Holt

Redwood and Ponytail by K.A. Holt

I love any LGBTQIA+ book for teens that allows love to win in the end. This book is full of hope, brimming with acceptance even as it explores having family members who don’t understand.

Slay by Brittney Morris

Slay by Brittney Morris 

A brilliant video game book that celebrates being black and the many dimensions that brings.

The Things She's Seen by Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina

The Things She’s Seen by Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina

Unusual and incredibly powerful and moving, this genre-bending novel is one of a kind.

Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan

Watch Us Rise by Renee Watson and Ellen Hagan

Powerful and engaging, this feminist read is written with strength and conviction.

We Rule the Night by Claire Eliza Bartlett

We Rule the Night by Claire Eliza Bartlett

Bartlett weaves fantasy with a military story line that really creates something special on the page.

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We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia

Latinx, LGBTQ love, political intrigue, and a vivid fantasy world come together to make an impressive teen read.

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo 

In this novel, Acevedo gifts us with a story in prose where you can see her skill as a poet shining through often, taking words and making them dazzling.

Review: Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists by Mikki Kendall and A. D’Amico 

Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists by Mikki Kendall and A. D’Amico 

Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists: A Graphic HIstory of Women’s Fight for Their Rights by Mikki Kendall and A. D’Amico (9780399581793)

Take a trip back through women’s history to discover queens, warriors, suffragettes, and much more! This graphic novel is set in the future and has a computer instructor who takes a group of girls back in time to understand the basis of women’s rights around the world. The book starts by looking deep into human history with the Assyrians, Mesopotamians, Eqyptians, Greeks and much more. The book then shows how the rise of the patriarchy eclipsed early women’s rights and replaced it with much more like what we see still today. The book moves forward in time, taking female rulers and warriors from around the world. There is also an exploration of civil rights as well as LGBTQ rights in the book that increases the representation of diverse experiences even farther. 

Kendall’s writing could have simply become a lengthy list of women from history, but she weaves a deeper narrative throughout. It also helps that she includes history as far back as she does. The supportive nature of those early societies is likely to surprise modern readers. Kendall works with intentionality to offer as diverse a cross-section of women as she can. They come from all over the world and represent many different countries, continents and races. Even more impressive is the way that Kendall is frank about the shortcomings of many of the women, acknowledging openly their open racism or unwillingness to challenge the status quo for others besides themselves. 

The art is great. The number of portraits in the book is daunting in its scope. Those women who are familiar visually are recognizable immediately. The additional information on each woman also offers vibrant images of their lives. The more tragic events are documented in more subtle tones, offering a visual cue that something dire has happened. 

A stellar graphic piece of nonfiction. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from library copy.

2020 Quick Picks for Reluctant YA Readers

YALSA has announced the 2020 Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers list. The full list contains 64 titles and includes books “aimed at encouraging reading among teens who dislike to read for any reason.” This list tends to have great recommendations for library collections that may have been missed in review journals.

The panel also selected a Top Ten:

10 Blind Dates

10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston

Belly Up

Belly Up by Eva Darrows

The Haunted (The Haunted, #1)

The Haunted by Danielle Vega

Heroine

Heroine by Mindy McGinnis

Kiss Number 8

Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable

Pumpkinheads

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell, art by Faith Erin Hicks

Two Can Keep a Secret

Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen McManus

The Unfortunates

The Unfortunates by Kim Liggett

Unpregnant (Unpregnant, #1)

UNpregnant by Jenni Hendricks and Ted Caplan

We Are Displaced

We Are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls around the World by Malala Yousafzai

 

 

Best Graphic Novels 2019

Bloom by Kevin Panetta

Bloom by Kevin Panetta, illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau

The baking scenes as they two work together are the epitome of romantic scenes, showing their connection to one another long before it fully emerges in the story.

Cicada by Shaun Tan

Cicada by Shaun Tan

An incredible book for teens, this one is sad, surprising and uplifting.

I Was Their American Dream by Malaka Gharib

I Was Their American Dream by Malaka Gharib

A diverse and funny look at families, race and America.

Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw

Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw

A stellar graphic novel for teens that is filled with LGBTQ pride.

Laura Dean Keep Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki

Laura Dean Keep Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell 

This graphic novel beautifully captures a captivating but toxic romantic and sexual relationship.

Mooncakes by Wendy Xu

Mooncakes by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker

A fantasy romance graphic novel worth falling for.

New Kid by Jerry Craft

New Kid by Jerry Craft

This is one of the best books for middle school age that deals with microaggressions, bias, privilege, and racism. Given that it is a graphic novel too, that makes it all the more appealing as a source for discussion.

The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner

The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner

Steinkellner’s debut graphic novel for youth is a delightful mix of diversity and magic. While comparisons can be made with other teen witches, this book stands entirely on its own.

Operatic by Kyo Maclear

Operatic by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler

A middle grade graphic novel that focuses on the power of music and opera? Yes please!

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks

These two very talented teen book creators have designed an amazing graphic novel together.

Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis

Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis

The pairing of an imaginative world with roots in real history makes for an incredible read.

Stargazing by Jen Wang

Stargazing by Jen Wang

Award-winning graphic novelist Wang invites readers into a personal story about growing up Chinese-American.

This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews

This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews

This graphic novel is amazing. It has a sense of wonder throughout from the very moment the lanterns are set afloat to the final pages of the book.

Your Turn, Adrian by Helena Oberg

Your Turn, Adrian by Helena Oberg, illustrated by Kristin Lidstrom, translated by Eva Apelqvist 

An incredibly moving graphic novel that invites readers to see beyond a person’s surface.

Best Nonfiction 2019

Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists by Mikki Kendall and A. D’Amico 

Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists: A Graphic HIstory of Women’s Fight for Their Rights by Mikki Kendall and A. D’Amico

A stellar graphic piece of nonfiction.

Brave Face by Shaun David Hutchinson

Brave Face by Shaun David Hutchinson

Brave, fierce and incandescent.

The End of Something Wonderful by Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic

The End of Something Wonderful: A Practical Guide to a Backyard Funeral by Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic, illustrated by George Ermos

Funny and frank, this funeral guide is just what we all need.

Free Lunch by Rex Ogle

Free Lunch by Rex Ogle

Profoundly honest and full of heart, this book is one that all teachers and librarians need to read to understand the children they serve.

Hummingbird by Nicola Davies

Hummingbird by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Jane Ray

A beautiful nonfiction picture book about an amazing tiny bird.

The Important Thing about Margaret Wise Brown by Mac Barnett

The Important Thing about Margaret Wise Brown by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Sarah Jacoby

His writing is a study in how to have a strong voice in a children’s book, a narrative point of view, and yet also avoid being didactic at all, insisting that young readers think for themselves.

It Feels Good to Be Yourself A Book about Gender Identity by Theresa Thorn

It Feels Good to Be Yourself: A Book about Gender Identity by Theresa Thorn, illustrated by Noah Grigni

With a diverse cast of children, this picture book deftly explains gender identity.

Moth An Evolution Story by Isabel Thomas

Moth: An Evolution Story by Isabel Thomas, illustrated by Daniel Egneus

Beautifully written and illustrated, this is a very special nonfiction picture book.

Muslim Girls Rise by Saira Mir

Muslim Girls Rise by Saira Mir, illustrated by Aaliya Jaleel

A must-purchase for all public libraries.

Nine Months Before a Baby Is Born by Miranda Paul

Nine Months: Before a Baby Is Born by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Jason Chin

A great book for children who are expecting a new baby in their family, this book is a lovely mix of science and love.

Not My Idea A Book about Whiteness by Anastasia Higginbotham

Not My Idea: A Book about Whiteness by Anastasia Higginbotham

The book has just enough history to clarify that this is a long-standing problem and is systemic. Yet it is not willing to rest there, calling for action, clarity around the subject and a responsibility to step up.

Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes

Ordinary Hazards by Nikki Grimes

Grimes writes a searing verse memoir of her years growing up with a mother suffering from alcoholism and schizophrenia.

A Place to Land by Barry Wittenstein

A Place to Land by Barry Wittenstein, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

Superb both in writing and illustration, this is one for every library.

planting stories the life of librarian and storyteller pura belpre by anika aldamuy denise

Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpre by Anika Aldamuy Denise, illustrated by Paola Escobar

The deep impact and life of librarian Pura Belpre is shown in this picture book biography.

The Secret Kingdom by Barb Rosenstock

The Secret Kingdom: Nek Chand, a Changing India, and a Hidden World of Art by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Claire A. Nivola   

A look at an outsider artist who created a world all his own.

Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson

Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson

Brilliant, courageous and heart breaking, this book is one that belongs in every library.

This Place 150 Years Retold

This Place: 150 Years Retold 

One of the top graphic novels of the year, this may be Canadian focused, but it speaks to everyone in all nations.

this promise of change by jo ann allen boyce and debbie levy

This Promise of Change: One Girl’s Story in the Fight for School Equality by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy

Beautifully written, this heartbreaking and dramatic story of courage in the face of hatred belongs in every library.

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander

The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Two amazing book creators come together in this nonfiction picture book celebrating the resilience, talents and perseverance of African-Americans throughout history.

2020 Great Graphic Novels for Teens

YALSA has announced their official 2020 Great Graphic Novels for Teens list. The list has 103 titles included from 178 nominations. The books are for ages 12-18 and are both high quality and have teen appeal. A top ten list is also chosen. Here are the books in the Top Ten:

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Bloom by Kevin Panetta, art by Savanna Ganucheau

Cosmoknights: Book One by Hanna Templer

I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir Kiss Number 8

I Was Their American Dream by Malaka Gharib

Kiss Number 8 by Colleen AF Venable, art by Ellen T. Crenshaw

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me The Life of Frederick Douglass: A Graphic Narrative of an Extraordinary Life

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki, art by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell

The Life of Frederick Douglass: A Graphic Narrative of a Slave’s Journey from Bondage to Freedom by David F. Walker, art by Damon Smyth and Marissa Louise

Pumpkinheads Simon & Louise

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell, art by Faith Erin Hicks

Simon & Louise by Max de Radigues

They Called Us Enemy Witch Hat Atelier, Vol. 1

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei and Justin Eisinger, art by Harmony Becker

Witch Hat Atalier by Kamome Shirahama

Review: Sick Kids in Love by Hannah Moskowitz

Sick Kids in Love by Hannah Moskowitz

Sick Kids in Love by Hannah Moskowitz (9781640637320)

Isabel loves to ask everyone else their opinions. In fact, it’s what she does for her high school paper column. It helps her make sense of a world where her mother just walked out of their family a few months earlier, leaving Isabel with her father who works most of the time as a hospital administrator. Isabel also spends a lot of time at the hospital, both because it’s where she gets to see her father most, but also because it’s where she gets her treatments for her rheumatoid arthritis. While at the hospital one day, she meets Sasha, a boy who also has his own non-fatal illness. The two hit it off, not dating though because Isabel has rules about dating. Soon Sasha and Isabel are spending a lot of time together. They adventure in New York City but also take lots of naps, don’t walk too far in the cold, and handle a lot of nosebleeds. Now Isabel must figure out if she’s going to start dating for the first time, or stick to the rule.

I have to mention that I worried I was in for a tear-jerker of a book and that it would be a lot like John Green’s A Fault in Our Stars. Those fears went away as I realized that Moskowitz was tackling invisible illnesses, the ones that people have but that don’t threaten their lives, just impact them in a variety of ways. This novel is so lovely, filled with first love, the pressures of whether to change for the other person, and the gorgeous connection that can happen again and again with another person. It’s a novel that balances beautifully the impact of being sick with the delight of being alive. 

Isabel and Sasha are both great protagonists. Isabel is wonderfully prickly and sarcastic, unwilling to change for a boy but also worried about the sort of person she is inside. Sasha too is sarcastic but very different from Isabel. Their two families are different too, Isabel left behind by her mother to live mostly alone and Sasha surrounded by a loving family who boisterously support him and what he needs. Yet the two of them make sense, clicking in a way that only the best romantic couples in books do.

A great romance that grapples with illness alongside love. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Entangled. 

Review: A River of Royal Blood by Amanda Joy

A River of Royal Blood by Amanda Joy

A River of Royal Blood by Amanda Joy (9780525518587)

Eva is a princess whose magick is tied to blood and marrow. She’s the first royal with that magick combination since Queen Raina, who massacred thousands of the native populations hundreds of years ago. Because her magick is so rare, Eva hasn’t learned how to use it yet, something that is particularly problematic when you are destined to fight your sister to the death in order to be the next Queen. Eva loves to travel incognito into the city at night to dance and forget her destiny for awhile. But when she is attacked by an assassin, she gets her first taste of her magick really working thanks to the blood she is drenched in. Eva now must find the key to her powers and discovers a legendary Fey warrior who just may have the answers for her. For the first time, she thinks she may just have a chance, but it won’t be easy as those around her become targets for her enemies too. 

Joy’s fantasy novel has strong roots in North Africa. She has created a magical fantasy realm filled with several different races with their own powers. Humans are the interlopers, who killed many on their way to both the throne and coming into their own magick powers. There is a strong sense of justice in the novel, where it is clear that the current Queen and Eva’s sister have never questioned what brought them the lives they have. Eva on the other hand has many questions, mostly about the races of the land but also about her own powers and what they say about her as a potential Queen and the bloodshed that may follow.

This novel is at its best during the action sequences where Eva is battling enemies and trying out her new powers on allies. In these scenes, the writing is tight and weaves a clear image of what is happening with breathtaking speed. The romance scenes are well written and an important element in the overall storyline. Joy focuses on characters and action, not lingering overly long on descriptions of the setting, which makes this a fast and intense read.

Full of bloody battles with a female protagonist who kicks ass, this book is a great read. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

 

Review: Mooncakes by Wendy Xu

Mooncakes by Wendy Xu

Mooncakes by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker (9781549303043)

Nova lives with her grandmothers and helps out in their magical bookshop where they serve witches in the community with potion ingredients as well as spell books. One night, she discovers someone from her childhood in the woods, a werewolf named Tam. Tam has been battling a horse demon in the woods. Nova’s grandmothers head into the woods to capture the demon and discover something with far more power than they expected. Something is out to get Tam and merge werewolf magic with the demon. As Nova and Tam try to figure out the key to accessing Tam’s werewolf powers, they steadily fall for one another too. When the villain targeting Tam is revealed it will take everything they have to defeat them.

This graphic novel is an intoxicating mix of fantasy and romance with strong LGBTQ elements. The characters are layered and complex, something that is more difficult to achieve in a graphic novel format. The childhood connection between Tam and Nova gives them a place to build from in their relationship. The romance is lovely and sweet, progressing naturally as the two become closer. Family elements are also vital to the story from the grandmothers to ghost parents who also have opinions about how Nova is being raised.

Tam uses the pronouns they/them/theirs which is great to see in a graphic novel for teens. The grandmothers are a lesbian couple as well. These elements offered in a matter-of-fact way create a harmonious world full of queer love. The book offers this in a way that makes it simply part of the fabric of life, which is very refreshing.

A fantasy romance graphic novel worth falling for. Appropriate for ages 13-17.

Reviewed from library copy.